PvP with a Capital M
This guest post is by j3w3l of Healing the Masses. J3w3l is a big fan of PvP, both structured and open world, and likes to play healers. In this post she talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of PvP in MMOs, and why you should give it a shot if you haven’t yet.
Compared to many of my MMO compatriots that have been playing the genre for a decade or more I’m a relative noob. Previously I found the genre rather annoying and couldn’t stand the appeal, I tried World of Warcraft like many have and found it to be a big steaming pile of well… I didn’t enjoy it. The environment was overly kiddy and the combat against samey monsters was repetitive and dull, there was no challenge and no enjoyment for me.
Fast forward a couple of years and I fell into another title called Rift and was enjoying my time, this time though I delved into the wonderful world of PvP. It felt amazing, the combat was exciting and each and every fight felt interesting and dynamic. Ever changing fights that brought out a feeling of exhilaration in me I’d never felt while gaming before, enough that I would go beetroot red and earn the name Rudolph from the hubby whenever I played. Even the rather harsh nature (it’s no Darkfall) of a PvP server was thoroughly enjoyable. I had found my gaming home and have been trying to set it up ever since.
It is hard to explain the feeling you get when engaging in pixelated combat against our fellow brethren. A large contingent of people have been killing each other for decades but it is more of a newer thing in the mainstream for the MMO genre. It has been around of course yet it never garnered the same appeal as the regular shooting galleries until recently. There is something very unique to it which has unfortunately been hidden away behind certain punishing systems, enough that the majority of people shied away from it. It’s amazing though but unfortunately it is very hard to explain the feeling and why it is so enjoyable.
The combat style is one of the key things that sets it apart from other genres. Many different classes each with a breadth of skills to use ends up creating a rather complex combat system. It takes a little time to memorize and when aiming for the top you probably want to learn the other classed as well. Scared you off yet.. nope, ok. All these skills can be a little daunting at first when the chaotic nature of PvP takes over but the feeling of problem solving and quick thinking under this pressure is exhilarating. It develops a sense of pride in you when you get it right and all the little pieces click into place.
Another part that is great about MMO combat is that it is generally more prolonged than FPS which creates a few interesting bits.
Twitchless – I find that with combat often taking longer it becomes less twitch reliant which enables a lot more styles of play. Who pressed a button first will usually not determine a fight between equally skilled opponents as there is always a chance of making a comeback or a big mistake and thus it is about who can play better. It’s all about this player skill which involves memory, problem solving and adaptability, strategy, and of course reflexes. All of which are usually a part of PvP but here it seems more nuanced and diverse than the regular shoot-em-ups. Recent action MMOs have shifted the experience more towards reflexes but are still very enjoyable.
Strategy- MMOs combine the squad based strategy inherent within FPS with a very unique style involving the play of individual strategies around skill use. Each fight while having an overarching strategy requires an adaptable approach wherein you need to survey the battlefield and respond with what may be needed.
Build – I really can’t think of any other genre that offers the diversity of playstyles that MMOs do as well as how many options of team composition there are. It is an unbelievably wonderful thing because many fights feel unique. You will be facing individuals and teams with varying builds and playstyles as well as having your own adaptable class and play. LoL is a master of this with so many characters that can be built in a variety of ways to maximise certain roles, even if you don’t count the characters that kind of mirror the skills of others it is still something to marvel at. While there will always be a few “meta” builds or strategies inherent in other genres it is still a very adaptable system as there will be counters to certain builds and even counters to those counters, a meta of strategy just focusing around character builds.
Flexible Group Play – To me the PvE environment has always been plagued by restrictions on how you play and who you can play with. Level and gear requirements have stopped a lot of my group play with friends and then there is the set numbers needed for instances, yet in PvP often enough these things mean nothing. My gear isn’t as important since I can still play and have fun with friends regardless of being of detriment to the team. In open world PvP the number of your group is inconsequential as more is always better. No one has to miss out or stay on the bench, there is no a team and b teams and if people don’t feel like it that’s ok too as you’re not ruining the experience for everyone else. This makes it feel far more inclusive to me creates a more positive guild environment.
Customisation – No offense to all you guys out there but I am so utterly sick of playing your average male commando, I need some kick ass female characters to do my killing with and MMOs have that and more. Also who can argue with playing some sort of Yoda-like gremlin one moment and a Viking behemoth the next… not me.
Variety is the spice of life and PvP has so many different genres and themes that there is probably a style out there for everyone. There is high fantasy and low fantasy, futuristic and apocalyptic and a variety of other subjects.
Most importantly though since any particular engagement is often more prolonged then your standard FPS it gets that adrenaline flowing longer and the high of a win and the lows of a defeat are that much more. The emotional engagement these occasions can bring has been well documented, the bad press has been well shown on media sites from time to time and have become legendary examples when discussing the genre but there are many positive stories out documenting the breadth and intensity of the emotions felt.
The meaningless grind – Sweet mother of god its bad sometimes and is the one inherent mechanic of MMOs that I would be happy to be rid of. Arguments for the system often say it is the period of learning, or in a sense that it is the circle of life wherein you take the punishment to dish it out later. Some believe it is a necessary gating system and that it is keeping people out who may not be suited for it in terms of time available and skill level. A majority believe it is required to gain some sense of progression, others though just say its nice to feel powerful. Requiring someone to spend to exorbitant amounts of time getting.. well massacred just to be able to compete is terrible in my opinion but thankfully is changing in the competitive parts.
FOTM – flavour of the month classes or builds, you know the one that is obviously overpowered so everyone and their dog plays them, is a problem MMOs will probably always be plagued with. While the level of diversity in skills is amazing it makes for a rather hard balancing act that never really ends for the developers. The endless QQ either legitimate or not makes it a bit harder not to mention the whole balancing for 2 or even more different sides of the game in tandem.
Lag – Being of oceanic origin this has always been a sore point point for online games, causing endless amounts of rage at missed opportunities and inconceivable corpses. Sometimes though it is not just related to geography as connecting millions together can cause certain issues. We are seeing improvements in the genre with upgraded server mainframes and better client coding but it is still just not as responsive as it could be especially when it comes to large scale encounters. It is frustrating enough for this to happen during a PvE encounter but when in PvP, the stakes just seem higher. When there are certain consequences to losing… ouch.
Elitists – There always seems to be a certain population who drives popular thought and can completely ruin community. The min-maxers determine what is the optimal gear and builds and slowly but surely the pressure of competing with everyone even when you don’t need to be takes hold. The community becomes entirely unforgiving of those with the an non-optimal setup and it can become a very poisonous thing, restricting playstyles and causing constant conflict. Part of this is also the Aholes that spew obscenities at anyone who doesn’t perform at their standard…you know the type. And then there are those you think may not even be part of the same species.
The Ugly (but downright awesome) Open World
Unfair combat – when out in the open world anything resembling fair combat is the rarity. Someone will usually have the advantage over you and gear is only a small part of that. It’s hard to get used to this feeling as other players are a relative unknown and not as static as the monsters we are used to facing. They’re completely unpredictable in their level of cunning and malevolence yet at the same time inspiring in their generosity.
Thriller – I will be honest and say that I love that constant sense of tension that comes from never being truly safe out in the world, always wondering what someones motives will be really tests the nerves. I want to feel and be engaged in the games I play rather than point hopping and being oblivious. It offers a better simulation of a virtual world because there is a less artificial sense of danger. You can be the lion or the gazelle to attain that feeling in these games with the style of play being up to you but both can be equally fun.
Risk vs Reward – With the ideal of never being safe and having to work more to get by in your travels, your accomplishments feel more significant. These days death is only a mechanic that resets your progress for a time but it still makes the outcome of a fight mean more. In more punishing games like Eve and Darkfall where death means far more your items become that much more valuable, attaining greater and bigger things is an accomplishment that feels innately rewarding since you have overcome more obstacles to get it. You earned these rewards rather than being gifted them and that is a big distinction.
The huge scale of fights that can often happen fills me with this warm fuzzy indescribable feeling at times. For someone that wasn’t involved in the golden days of UO and other early MMOs seeing that many people all interacting together is just amazing.. and the fact they are fighting is even better. It’s chaotic, unstructured, and uncivilized at times but it’s nice to break down into those base carnal urges it incites.
Now no matter what your experiences have been with us kooky folks PvP its not just for psychopathic kids and obese otaku living in their parents basement anymore. There is a wide arrange of products fitting many different gameplay styles which incorporate lots of different themes. Fantasy, sci-fi, mecha, modern warfare – whatever you like there is something out there for you. And amazingly, after a period of boring iterations of the same game modes PvP is starting to gain the focus of developers and we are see more imaginative and creative projects as well as MMOs incorporating these mechanics more deeply into these immersive worlds of ours.
Not only that but PvP is becoming far more accessible to the casual masses. No more gear grinds, minimal unlocks, and they even seem to be making steps so that new players are on an equal power level with the time rich players — progression has become more about having options and I think that is a wonderful change. In the MMO space I believe Guild Wars 2 has begun a new age of competitive PvP in MMOs not being about gear grinding… halle-freekin-lujah. Large scale games with a complete focus on PvP like Planetside 2 are completely open to the new player to enjoy and contribute by being free to play. There are many interesting RTS MMOs coming out in the near future which maybe don’t have the complexity of games like StarCraft but equally as amazing because of the inter-connectedness they encourage. There are even many more online Arena based games which have become ridiculously popular, and they seem to be multiplying daily.
It’s not for everyone, but even if it isn’t your thing having a bit of random unstructured play killing your fellow human beings can be a lot of fun from time to time. The community can be absolutely detestable but some can also shine through. I think most online communities have a balance in the good and bad parts though, unfortunately here though it just seems more defined. It is slowly changing for the better and hopefully in the near future it will be equally accommodating to all players
Just remember that in PvP death is nothing to be feared, it happens. There is no overarching win point, you are there to have fun and it can be oh so fun.